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Texas: SA Had It Right On Truancy, So We'll Follow Their Lead


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Texas students who are forced to miss class because they have to work or take care of a sick relative will no longer viewed by the state as criminals.

The change in state law, which takes effect Sept. 1, comes after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2398 into law on Friday.

And it came about after state leaders took a look at how San Antonio leaders came up with a non-punitive approach to truancy that proved effective.

In SA, change came about after a municipal court judge grew tired of seeing the criminal-truancy approach utterly failing to get students back into the classroom.

Judge John Bull recruited allies to look for an early intervention method meant to address the roots of the problem before kids got to court after missing too many school days.

“In the bill he authored, Sen. John Whitmire referred to the reforms taking place here and noted his bill was following ‘the San Antonio model,’” Bull said proudly in a news release. “The days of escorting kids in handcuffs because they failed to go to school are over.”

As in San Antonio, starting next school year, truancy cases will be held in civil, not criminal, hearings. Under the current law, truant students are charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Rey Saldaña, SA councilman who led a city-county task force on truancy, also chimed in after hearing the state proposal was signed into law.

“This is truly a historic bill and time for San Antonio and the state of Texas,” Saldaña said in a news release. “In the spirit of collaboration between city, county and school officials, San Antonio can proudly proclaim to be the golden standard for all of Texas.”

As reported in the Current in March, Texas Appleseed, an advocacy think tank, concluded that black and Latino students were being disproportionately harmed by the state's harsh truancy policy.

The report, which helped contribute to San Antonio leaders looking into a new way to tackle the dilemma, concluded that in 2013, San Antonio Independent School District had filed more than 12,000 truancy cases, the second-highest in the state.

Advocates weren't sure if Abbott, known as a law-and-order enforcer, was actually going to get behind the bill, which actually drew wide bipartisan support.

But apparently he came around upon seeing positive real-life results for the better, as had taken place in San Antonio.

“Criminalizing unauthorized absences at school unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of our students ... I signed House Bill 2398 to ensure Texas educators have the tools necessary to prevent truancy, encourage classroom attendance and focus on educating our children to ultimately set our students on a pathway toward success,” Abbott said in a statement to the Current.

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